I love making things that take a long time. Although, let me qualify that – I’m less keen on fiddly or awkward processes, as they send my blood pressure due North. What I like is the gradual process of change and development that occurs over long periods. Because long, slow cooking processes normally mean that you’re allowing rich, strong flavours to develop.
I’m also a big fan of basic ingredients, the things that we buy off the shelf, but which can be made at home. However we normally get them from the supermarket because funnily enough, they take a long time to make!
Sun dried tomatoes fall squarely into that category. If my North London location was blessed with a Mediterranean climate then I would try making these in the traditional way, by leaving them out in the scorching sun to dry for a few days. You just need to leave them out in a sunny (preferably South facing) place in the morning and take them in at night, repeating day after day until they are done.
But, in the absence of consistent 30º+ weather, we can still make damn good versions using an oven and plenty of tomatoes. I say plenty because the tomatoes shrink so much when you cook them, if you only make a few there’s a good chance they won’t last beyond the “just checking them” stage! In photos on this post I used about 30 large tomatoes and they took all day.
Also, a tip; if you make these in the summer, try one of your local grocers as opposed to a supermarket for the tomatoes as they’ll often be cheaper for a ‘bulk’ batch of tomatoes. The tray in the photo cost £3.99.
Sun (oven) dried tomatoes
By Gavin Wren
As many as you put in!
A lot of medium to large tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil for preserving
Wash the tomatoes, then slice them in half and scoop out the seeds – I find this easiest with a dessert spoon. You want them to be as empty of moisture as possible, so I also pat the insides dry with a bit of kitchen towel.
Place them all cut side up and give them a light sprinkle of salt, then turn them cut side down on a wire rack in a baking tray. Make sure there is plenty of space underneath the wire rack, prop it up if necessary.
Put the trays in the oven, and keep an eye on them, I rotate the trays every hour or so. They are done when they’ve shriveled up and look like, well, a sun-dried tomato!
Important informationThe secret to this process being successful is air. The hot air of the oven needs to be able to access as much surface area of the tomatoes as possible. If you try and do this with the tomatoes just laid out on a baking sheet then they won’t dry as well. If you have a baking tray with a wire rack in the bottom of it, then prop it up to create a gap with some ramekins or any other oven proof ‘stuff’ you might have laying around. The oven temperature is also important, if you turn it up too high then you will roast the tomatoes and that is not what you want to achieve.
You can keep these, covered, in the fridge for up to a week. If you’d like to keep them longer, then wash a jar out well and leave it in the oven at Gas Mark 4 (180ºC, 350ºF) for 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven and once cool, stuff the tomatoes in and top it up with extra virgin olive oil. Tip – the more you squeeze the tomatoes in, the less oil you’ll use. Just make sure you get rid of any air gaps by rolling the jar around and tapping the bottom of it.